6 early signs of autism

April is National Autism Awareness Month.

What is autism?

Autism, or autism spectrum disorders (ASD), is a developmental disability that causes social, behavior and communication challenges. Because it is a spectrum disorder, each person with autism has a unique set of skills and limitations and can range from highly skilled to severely challenged.

How common is it?

Autism tends to run in families. Advanced parent age, pregnancies spaced less than a year apart, and pregnancy and birth complications can increase the risk for developing autism. It is not caused by poor parenting or vaccinations. According to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, more people than ever before are being diagnosed with ASD — today, about 1 out of every 59 children in the United States is diagnosed with ASD.

What goes into an autism diagnosis?

Diagnosing ASD includes a developmental screening by a physician that checks if children are learning basic skills for their age, or if there are delays. This screening is recommended at regular well-child doctor visits at nine months, 18 months and 24-30 months. 

Because several factors can influence the development of autism, a separate comprehensive evaluation is also used to diagnose ASD. This evaluation may include looking at the child’s behavior and development, interviewing the parents, genetic testing, hearing and vision screening and neurological and other medical testing.

What are the signs of autism?

Here are six signs to look for in early childhood:

  1. At 6 months – few or no big smiles and limited eye contact
  2. At 9 months – little or no back-and-forth sharing of sounds, smiles or facial expression
  3. At 12 months – little or no response to name, no back-and-forth gestures like reaching or waving
  4. At 16 months – little or no words
  5. At 24 months – very few or no meaningful two-word phrases
  6. At any age – avoids eye contact, delayed language development, prefers to be alone

Research has shown that diagnosis and high-quality intervention at an early age can improve communication, learning and brain development. So it is important to learn the signs of ASD — and take action early. If you think your child might have ASD, we encourage you to talk to your child’s pediatrician.

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